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Travellers from Afar

Travellers from Afar

I HAD arrived in Kota Kinabalu in northern Borneo two days ago. Having explored the city I returned to my hotel with a couple of hours to spare before meeting the rest of the group with whom I was going to attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu.

Upon reaching reception and getting my key, the receptionist told me that I needed to move to another room to move in with a roommate. Oh dear. Now I was going to lose my independence as I had done in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of my tour of Cambodia. I really hoped whoever I was sharing a room with would be a nice guy. The receptionist said he was already in his room, so I went upstairs and knocked on the door.

He answered the door. “Oh you must be Jeff” he said in a heavy European accent. I introduced myself and we talked about where we were from. Geoff was from Switzerland and he was near the end of a gap year travelling all around the world. Lucky him, I thought. I told him that I was doing a similar thing seeing the world, but only exploring small areas at a time.

My theory is that although it is cheaper to take a gap year and travel the entire world, I prefer to break it up into a couple of weeks each year so you always have something to look forward to. When you are travelling all in one hit, you do get a bit travelled out and when you get back there’s nothing to look forward to apart from endless years of hard work and no breaks.

I spent the next hour getting to know Geoff – that’s Geoff with a G. I thought that was a bit awkward with both of us having the same name.

Cameras at the Hotel
Cameras at the Hotel

I unpacked my gear and set up the chargers to charge the batteries. It looked horrendous with the powerboard and multiple adapters and cables, but Geoff didn’t seem to mind, or if he did, he was just being very polite about it.

It was nearly six o’clock, so I headed off downstairs alone. Geoff said he was coming soon. I sat at reception waiting for the group. No one else was there, apart from a redhead a few years my junior sitting on the floor in the next room with a laptop looking very serious and completely focused on whatever it was he was doing. Was he going to be in the group?

A young lady came down the stairs and sat next to me. “Are you on the tour group too,” she asked in a distinctive English accent. I sure was, so we introduced ourselves. She was Nadia from London, explaining she was half English and half Arabic. She had the pale skin and black hair of an English person, but the finely chiselled facial features of a person from the Middle East.

Two young guys arrived next. They were Tobias and Casper from Denmark. Actually they were from the southern part – Zealand, or Old Zealand as I called it, being from New Zealand myself.

The guy behind the laptop in the other room arrived and cheerfully told us to come into the other room. His face now lit up to something far friendlier than before, and he spoke with a strong South African accent. Very interesting I thought.

It’s interesting how people can look so serious when they are behind a computer, yet they become so animated when they come back to real life. Why is this? As I would get to know this guy over the next couple of weeks, that initial judgement I made about him being so grumpy behind the computer became totally idiosyncratic from his usual bubbly self. It’s amazing what computers do to you. As I’d later find out he hardly used computers and when he did use them he absolutely hated them.

Within minutes, the entire group had assembled. We were quite a large group of twelve, all from different parts of the world. This tour was going to be really interesting, and I could tell straight up that this was going to be such an amazing group to travel with. My fears had suddenly melted away.

The group leader introduced himself and handed out our itineraries. He was Richard, originally from South Africa as I had already figured from his strong accent, but he has lived in Melbourne most of his life before moving out here to Borneo. I was intrigued to know why he had moved all the way out here to work. Surely it was not for the money. From what I have heard the wages aren’t very good here.

I have already introduced Geoff, Nadia, Tobias, and Casper, so I won’t go through their stories again except Tobias and Casper had recently finished school and were on a gap year travelling the world before starting university later this year.

There was a young Asian couple in the group. Robert and Jessica were the first Asians I have travelled with to date on any adventure tour that involved hiking. Robert was Malaysian. His parents moved to Sydney from Kuala Lumpur when he was little, and he was here to see his origins. When they are finished the tour here, they will be going to Kuala Lumpur and down to Penang to visit extended family. Jessica is also from Sydney, having been born and raised there. Her parents were from Hong Kong. Her father Chinese and her mother was Thai. They were together on this tour to test whether they were ready to marry each other. Now that’s an interesting test.

Then there was Suzanne, a blonde nurse from Canberra. She was just here on holiday, and for some reason she hadn’t until two days ago been aware that the itinerary had included a major mountain climb. Gosh, I thought everyone read the itineraries before booking these tours. I had booked this tour purely to climb the mountain - everything else was relatively superfluous.

Then there was Therese from England who was about two years older than me. She had recently left the army after having been there all her working life. She wasn’t sure what to do with her life, so here she was travelling the world to find her destiny. Clearly these tours attract travellers on gap years.

When it came to my turn, I explained to the group that I’m from New Zealand, now living in Brisbane. I mentioned my absolute fascination for remote exotic locations, plant ecosystems, and climbing mountains. I said the highest mountain I have ever climbed to date is Mount Taranaki at two thousand five hundred and eighteen metres, and I never believed I could climb anything higher – ever. I was here to prove myself wrong. Borneo was one of the list of places I have wanted to go to since I was a small child, and I was now working through the list.

I also warned everyone that I’m a compulsive photographer. I told them not to let that bother them as I’m happy to share happy snaps with anyone.


Once introductions and the tour briefing were finished, we walked out of the hotel and across to near the huge Centrepoint Shopping Centre for dinner. We entered a clean restaurant and had dinner served up on banana leaves. The different dishes were served up in small piles on different parts of the banana leaf with a big pile of rice in the middle. I also ordered a pineapple juice. Richard mentioned most people here were Muslim and they eat with their fingers. How disgusting I thought. However, “when in Rome…” so I took the challenge of eating with my fingers. No one else was brave enough to do that. I didn’t blame them though. Give me my designer Maxwell and Williams cutlery any time.

Despite the grossness of eating with my fingers, the food was really nice. Obviously Malaysia stacks up with the rest of Asia with the food being so nice here.

Once dinner was finished we left the restaurant and walked through the darkness of the now overcast night towards the port, stopping at the Irish pub to find a large table we could all sit around. I got a good group photo using the little camera as the flash unit on the big camera was giving me some grief thanks perhaps to the low one 110 volts they had here – well that’s what I figured anyway. Maybe it was just the rechargeable batteries. Anyway it’s back to the drawing board with the flash I thought.

After about an hour at the Irish pub, we returned to the hotel. Richard mentioned that we will be having breakfast together tomorrow morning. After breakfast we will have the rest of the morning off getting ready for us to leave at one o’clock beginning our adventure of one of the most spectacular mountains on the planet.

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15 May 2010


Kota Kinabalu



4m ASL


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